The Power of Language
Language matters. What we say, how we say it, and when we bring up these “tough topics” all have an impact on a child’s development. In our work at Childhood Victories, we’re often recommended to schools and community groups for our approach in teaching about interpersonal violence. From sexual abuse to domestic and dating violence to teen dating we wanted to make sure children are taught in a way that no only reaches them on their level but empowers them to use their voice. Here are 3 ways we use language to protect children and nurture their growing skill of resilience.
Validate the Uncomfortable Feelings
When you’re tackling a topic like sexual abuse, every one is uncomfortable. We all know the act of sexual abuse is taboo, but in our society that has bled into education; The prevention of sexual abuse is often just as feared as the act itself. Let children know it’s okay and normal to feel discomfort learning about tough topics. They are not alone in their feelings or weird for wanting to run out of the room. Rather, they should be proud of themselves for not only feeling their feelings, but saying to themselves, “I am human. It’s brave to acknowledge my discomfort and it’s safe to show how I’m feeling.”
Use Appropriate Language
Using anatomically correct words for “Private Body Parts” is a personal choice for each and every parent. With that being said, there is a reason why so many medical professionals, social workers, counselors, and us at childhood Victories have chosen to teach our children these words. Simply put: Children can specifically tell us if something is wrong or if someone has touched them inappropriately. They can communicate in a descriptive way if they have pain, if something has changed, or if they are just curious about their body. Teaching these terms in a safe environment removes the shame and embarrassment that so many children in past generations have been taught. When we teach children that their private body parts are something to be ashamed of or feared, they shy away from asking for help.
Again, it is up to each individual parent when their children learns the correct names. But the sooner you let a child know that their whole body belongs to them, head to toe and everything in between, the sooner we build bridges of communication and empower them to vocally advocate for themselves.
Use Appropriate BODY Language
Try not to roll your eyes, scoff, or laugh off questions children have about their bodies and relationships with other people. If they are brave enough to ask, we should be ready to have these tough conversations. Yes, these are kids we are talking about. But they are also human, with curiosities and questions that need to be answered. Shrugging their inquiries off as, “just kid questions” doesn’t spare or protect them. It harms them. Actively listen. If you can, sit eye-level and keep a neutral face. Take them seriously and show them that you are engaged in what is important to them. This may seem like such a small thing to us adults…but to a child, this is everything.
We want children to know that no feeling or conversation is too uncomfortable or too taboo to talk about. There is power in the words we use and the language that we teach our children. Sexual abuse breeds in secrecy and darkness, and only abusers benefit from an educated child. We can change that. Starting with our own families, we can empower the world one child at a time. We’ve said it before ad we’ll say it again: We want children to Be Seen and Heard, with the tools and skills to raise their voice.
FULL TRANSCRIPT (The following is the full transcript of this episode of The Be Seen and Heard Journey. Please note that this episode, like all BSH Journey episodes, features Victor speaking extemporaneously–he is unscripted and unedited.)
Hey, it’s Victor. I want to welcome you to another Be Seen and Heard© Journey. Thank you for being with me today. I want to talk today about something really important, and it’s ultimately, the safety of our children. You know in schools they teach bus evacuation drills. I was told by a gym teacher that every student in the state of Illinois has to once a year get on a bus and be able to safely get off that bus. And I find that interesting because Erin’s law was passed in 2013 and there are still a lot of schools in Illinois and the other States that have passed the law that are not doing anything to fulfill that mandate. It says that every student in public schools has to be taught about sexual abuse awareness and prevention. The reason why I think a lot of schools are not jumping on board yet with this law is because they’re afraid.
They’re afraid because they feel that the topic is taboo. It is taboo. It’s a horrible topic to talk about. But unfortunately, there are so many children that have been sexually abused. Being a survivor, I am very passionate about helping children stay safe from unsafe touch. The lesson today is that you can’t teach kindergarteners and first and second graders the same language about sexual abuse as you would for a fifth grader or even up to high school. You have to appropriately put together a curriculum that’s going to reinforce what Erin’s law is, but done in an appropriate way that doesn’t frighten children. See, I always tell fifth graders when I’m sitting in front of them that if they have younger brothers and sisters, do not go home and use the term sexual abuse. They will not understand it.
They will not comprehend what that is and rightfully so. But you can tell a kindergartner for example, an unsafe touch, which is something like being pushed or kicked or tripped, makes us feel uncomfortable so that if anyone ever touches your private body parts and it’s made you feel uncomfortable, not to keep you clean or healthy, that is an unsafe touch. So I tell older students to use that language with their siblings at home and it makes for a much easier conversation. The other fear that parents have is that they don’t know how to talk to their children about this difficult topic. And I simply say, you don’t really have to talk about the topic. All you have to do is help your children stay safe by reinforcing the simple rule. No one touches your private body parts unless it is to keep you clean and healthy.
And if it falls outside of that rule, then it is an unsafe touch. And you keep it simple. You don’t have to get too complicated with the concepts of what sexual abuse is, but just keep it simple. So ultimately this post today, this video, however you’re seeing this or reading this, is really about the safety of our children, specifically, in the topic of sexual abuse and how to appropriately language it.
One more thing that I want to reinforce is the idea that children have the right to feel what they’re feeling. You know, I remember as a child, if I felt a certain thing and I brought it up, I remember my father, who I say this all the time, I loved very much, he would never validate my feeling. He would always say, stop crying. Boys don’t cry. And I’m a firm believer that every child has the right to feel what they’re feeling.
Now, if it’s a negative feeling, I always reinforce, don’t stay locked in that negative feeling. You want to go talk to somebody, but feel what you’re feeling. It’s okay to have feelings. So with that being said, ultimately, it’s all about keeping children safe. If we have lock downs and we have fire drills and bus evacuations, it is really time to continue or start the conversation about body safety as it pertains to sexual abuse awareness and prevention. I want to thank you so much for taking the time to watch or listen to this video. Please share this with your family and friends. And again, every child deserves to be seen and heard. Thanks. Have a great day.